It’s been nine long months since I put fingers to the keyboard and bashed out my last post on this blog. Along with millions of others around the world I’ve wrestled with pandemic dislocation and upheaval, along with some challenging circumstances on the personal front. I don’t plan to go into those circumstances in this blog – I mention them only becuase they have propelled me into a new life adventure.
After 15 extraordinary years with World Vision, I made the difficult decision to step away and last week I signed-off from my career in international development with enormously mixed feelings. It’s been a great privilege to belong to this organisation that truly changes the lives of vulnerable children, and the crowning glory has been meeting and working with extraordinary colleagues from around the world.
I’ve represented the organisation at the UN in New York, delivered training to staff and leaders in more than 40 countries, led local advocacy community consultations, planned campaigns and advocated for child rights in dozens of fora. But it was getting to meet with, learn from and be inspired by the children and communities we served that always really made my socks roll up and down.
Along the way I also had opportunities for flitting mini-adventures and take with me so many incredible memories – hangin’ with the Maasai, whitewater rafting the source of the Nile in Uganda, getting up close and personal with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, making buuz in a yurt in Mongolia, and soaking in the wonders of the immortal Taj Mahal and the truly glorious Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar to name only a few.
My work mates gave me a stupendous send-off with many kind words about the impact that I have made and the legacy I have left. It touches me deeply to feel that I really have achieved, in some small way, what I set out to do – to make a difference. It’s been an incredible journey and I’m filled with gratitude.
So, what’s next?
Of couse it’s writing. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do and no matter where my career vicissitudes have taken me my heart keeps on leading me back to pen and paper (OK, or keyboard). So now that life has opened this door of change I’m seizing the moment once and for all and throwing myself at this authorship caper with everything I’ve got.
To kick things off I’ve enrolled in a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. Why study, I hear you ask? I’m fully aware that there is a whole world of debate out there about the merit of studying writing. One school of thought says that either you’ve got writing talent or you haven’t – no amount of studious navel-gazing and can generate genius. These proponents argue that a writing degree is just a very expensive piece of paper and wanna-be writers would simply be better off sitting down at their desks and getting on with it.
Others, obviously including the universities that offer such courses, claim differently. Graduates speak of the benefits of exploring their writing style in a supportive environment, the saluatory nature of structured feedback and the opportunity to learn about the nuts and bolts of the publishing industry.
Since I’ve signed up it’s pretty clear that I’m placing myself in the second camp. Yes, I could just plonk myself at my keyboard and start writing. But I’m looking for ideas and inspiration, for challenges and stretch tasks that will push me out of my comfort zone, and for the mental stimulation and sheer, unadulterated pleasure of studying and learning. I’m also pretty keen on addressing the gaps that I know I have around editing and publishing. Hence the UTS Masters. It’s got a great combination of academic interrogation, flexible creative writing subjects (including novel writing), and those pragmatic topics focused on getting your book into print.
So, I retun to this blog with a new purpose. Another year, another writing story. This time my plan is to document my Masters experience and see what conclusions I come to about the merits or otherwise of studying writing. I also intend to have a jolly good crack at bashing out manuscript number two before I’m done. I still haven’t completely given up hope on Under New Management (for new readers, see earlier posts on my literary adventures in France), but I’m deeply cognisant of the fact that authors’ first efforts are rarely the ones that launch their careers. My motto may be a cliché but I’m sticking with it: if at first you dont succeed, try, try again!
To fire up my synapses I’ve just read Stephen’s King’s excellent On Writing, which my dear friend Rachel gave me for my last birthday. I’m ashamed to say it had been gathering dust at the bottom of my ‘to read’ pile, but I guess it was just waiting for the right moment. As you can see from the number of sticky tabs I’ve used as markers there are heaps of writing wisdom nuggets that I plan on applying in this new phase of my work.
Here’s what Stephen has to say on writing courses: “I’m often asked if I think the beginning writer of fiction can benefit from writing classes or seminars. The people who ask are, all too often, looking for a magic bullet or a secret ingredient, neither of which can be found in classrooms or at writing retreats, no matter how enticing the brochures may be. As for myself, I’m doubtful about writing classes, but not entirely against them … Writing seminars and courses do offer at least one undeniable benefit: in them desire to write fiction or poetry is taken seriously. For aspiring writers who have been looked upon with pitying condescension by their friends and relatives this is a wonderful thing … You might not learn the Magic Secrets of Writing (there aren’t any – bummer huh?), but you’ll certainly have a grand time, and grand times are something I’m always in favour of.” Me too!
Stephen also states emphatically that writers learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot. I intend to heed this advice to the full! To this end I’ve been busy this weekend converting my World Vision home office into a writer’s study. Perched in front of me now are my collected works on writing and some other selected inspiration sources. I’ve also made a raid on the local library and am relishing working my way through a fascinating and eclictic pile of reading goodies. Finally, my World Vision colleauges farewelled me with a voucher for Dymocks Books (thanks heaps guys!) and I’m poring over the catalogue and licking my lips in anticipation of uni book purchases.
I hope you, readers old and new, will enjoy this new writing adventure and blogging journey as much as I know I am going to 🙂